In Memoriam: Robert L. Bartley
December 10, 2003, 04:00 AM
Print Friendly and PDF

Robert L. Bartley, who died December 10 at the tragically early age of 66, was one of the greatest journalists in American history. His discreet 1972-2002 direction of the Wall Street Journal`s Editorial Page, which is in effect a Little Magazine piggy-backing on what for years was the country`s only national daily newspaper, will be studied as long the trade of opinion-molding matters—and as long as Ronald Reagan`s twin triumphs, winning the Cold War and ending the world`s inflationary slide to socialism, continue to resonate.

Bartley and the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page played a real role in those triumphs. Unfortunately, he also played an equally decisive role in the subsequent tragedy: the degeneration of the American conservative movement into careerist Republican boosterism, curiously combined with a fanatical and dishonest commitment to mass immigration.

Why did this happen? Certainly there was a sociological aspect. Bartley was the last in a long tradition of Midwestern executives at the Wall Street Journal. He presided, apparently quite happily, over its capture by the same urban, East-coast-oriented, elite-educated types who run the rest of U.S. Big Media. Under these circumstances, the Editorial Page`s increasing "neoconservatism" was the closest thing available to its former, no doubt unfashionable, heartland conservatism.

But also the failure may also have been Bartley`s. I`ve told before the circumstances—discreditable, I believe, to him—in which Bartley came to observe to me that "I think the nation-state is finished." It`s unfortunate that Bartley never engaged in public debate on this vital, post-Cold War issue. I suspect that he never really thought it through. For a journalist, however, this shy and apparently gentle man was surprisingly uncomfortable with argument.

Bartley played a key role in my own career, asking me to come down from Canada to be a summer "guest" on the Editorial Page in 1978. At one time, I saw him regularly in the small world of New York conservative journalism. Yet at the end we had drifted so far apart that I realized only very recently that he, like my own family, was threatened by the terrible curse of cancer. I made a mental note to write him a letter of commiseration. I bitterly regret that I did not.

Our condolences to his family, both personal and—despite our grave disagreements—intellectual.

Peter Brimelow is Editor of VDARE.COM and author of Alien Nation: Common Sense About America`s Immigration Disaster (1995), which the Wall Street Journal reviewer described as the "natterings of a neo-nativist." Click here to read Bartley`s reaction to Brimelow`s 1992 National Review "Time To Rethink Immigration?" cover story and Brimelow`s response.